Radiation therapy has a role in skin cancer treatment
Valley View Hospital
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over 2 million people are diagnosed annually. According to the skin cancer foundation, each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.
The majority of skin cancers are successfully treated by primary care providers, dermatologists and surgeons. Additionally, in certain cases radiation therapy may be indicated, according to Valley View Hospital’s radiation oncologist, Dr. Bruce Greene.
“We have known for years that radiation therapy is an effective treatment for skin cancer,” said Dr. Greene. “Some skin cancers have aggressive features indicating an important role for radiation therapy in addition to surgery.”
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses focused X-rays or electrons to kill cancer cells. The radiation therapy is given from outside the body onto the tumor. If a tumor is very large or is located in an area that makes surgery difficult, radiation may be used as the main treatment instead of surgery. In some cases radiation therapy can be an alternative to surgery if the predicted cosmetic outcome will be undesirable, says Greene.
“There are occasions on the face, scalp or ear where surgery may have a cosmetic consequence. In many of these cases, initial treatment with radiation therapy as an alternative to surgery can result in a more acceptable cosmetic outcome,” said Greene.
VVH has advanced technology to deliver superficial radiation therapy confined to only the skin. This eliminates unnecessary exposure to normal underlying tissues.
Dr. Greene cites six reasons when radiation therapy might be considered:
1. The skin cancer has recurred following prior surgical procedures.
2. Under microscopic examination the cancer growth has attached to nerves inside of the skin.
3. The cancer growth has a microscopically aggressive appearance showing possible spread to the lymph glands.
4. The cancer growth has been operated on but incompletely removed.
5. The surgical procedure may be disfiguring.
6. The patient is unable to undergo a surgical procedure.
Following are signs of the most common types of skin cancers.
Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs in sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your neck or face. Basal cell carcinoma may appear as:
• A pearly or waxy bump
• A flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
Most often, squamous cell carcinoma occurs on sun-exposed areas of your body, such as your face, ears and hands. People with darker skin are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma on areas that aren’t often exposed to the sun. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as:
• A firm, red nodule
• A flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface
Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, in otherwise normal skin or in an existing mole that becomes cancerous. Melanoma most often appears on the face or the trunk of affected men. In women, this type of cancer most often develops on the lower legs. In both men and women, melanoma can occur on skin that hasn’t been exposed to the sun. Melanoma can affect people of any skin tone. In people with darker skin tones, melanoma tends to occur on the palms or soles, or under the fingernails or toenails. Melanoma signs include:
• A large brownish spot with darker speckles
• A mole that changes in color, size or feel or that bleeds
• A small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, white, blue or blue-black
• Dark lesions on your palms, soles, fingertips or toes, or on mucous membranes lining your mouth, nose, vagina or anus
If you suspect you have skin cancer, call your primary care provider or dermatologist for evaluation and treatment.
If you have questions about the Radiation Oncology program at Valley View Hospital, please call (970) 384-7579.
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